Medical Marijuana Creates New Issues for Illinois Employers

Marijuana is the dried flowers, seeds and leaves of the Indian hemp plant, and it is the most commonly used illicit drug in the world. The recreational and medical use of marijuana has long been a subject of great debate. Marijuana supporters argue that this drug substance is natural and incredibly helpful in allowing the individual to cope with a wide range of physical and mental conditions. Supporters also often argue that marijuana comes with little risk of dangerous side effects compared to many other drug substances, and is highly unlikely to result in an overdose. Those who oppose its use point out that marijuana is a drug substance that produces physiological changes in the user’s body, and still carries with it dangerous side effects. In fact, marijuana contains at least four hundred known chemicals, including THC. Marijuana use has been proven to cause sensory distortion, panic, anxiety, impaired coordination, reduced reaction time, reduced resistance to common illnesses, suppression of the immune system, apathy, drowsiness, mood changes, inability to understand things clearly, growth disorders, destruction of lung fibers, injuries to the brain, reduced sexual capacity, reduced ability to learn and retain information and much more. However, regardless of one’s personal view, the fact is that medical marijuana use has been approved in twenty-three states, including Illinois, which means that employers will have to learn what it means to be compliant.

New Issues for Illinois Employers

With the introduction of the Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, all employers, and especially those with zero-tolerance policies, must be aware of exactly what is allowed in the workplace, and the actions they can and cannot take when one of their employees is under the influence of marijuana. During the four years that the program will be in effect, Illinois officials will gather information to determine whether the currently approved medical marijuana uses should be restricted or expanded. Considering programs instituted in the other twenty-two medical marijuana approved states, the program in Illinois may be one of the most restrictive medical marijuana programs currently in effect. However, it also means that certain concessions will still have to be made by employers in order to ensure that they are not discriminating against their marijuana-using employees.

Illinois employers are permitted to maintain zero-tolerance policies in the workplace, but they cannot discriminate in any way against those employees who are registered patients under the act. Employers are also permitted to restrict employees whose approved marijuana use results in unsafe working conditions or increased harm for self or others, as long as this is also done in a non-discriminatory way. Random drug testing must also remain non-discriminatory, even when the employer is aware that one of their employees is an approved and registered patient under the act.

This may all sound relatively simple–employers essentially have to continue operating in a non-discriminatory fashion when dealing with their employees, taking into account that registered patients under the act cannot be treated differently simply due to their legal marijuana use. However, it is slightly more complicated, because employees with disabilities who are lawfully using marijuana under the new act can actually request work-related accommodations. Under the new law, these requests minimally require that employers make individualized assessments in order to determine whether the request is reasonable and can be granted without creating undue hardship or safety issues. They do this so that the individuals are sure to not lie about having the legal use of marijuana. If ever the individual abuses medical marijuana they can seek help at a drug rehab Illinois. Once the individual seeks help at a drug centre Illinois, they will no longer abuse medical marijuana.

Illinois employers are being encouraged to review the new law thoroughly in order to better ensure their compliance and a smooth transition into legal medical marijuana use by their employees.


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